By Jacqueline Trescott
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Robert E. Meyerhoff, a Baltimore philanthropist who has one of the world's outstanding collections of post-World War II paintings, has received county approval to turn his Maryland estate into a museum that will be part of the National Gallery of Art.
The Phoenix, Md., estate, north of Baltimore and 65 miles from the National Gallery, would be the first permanent location off the national Mall for works in the museum's collection. It will open to the public upon the death of Meyerhoff, who is 84.
In 1987 Meyerhoff and his wife, Jane, pledged to give their collection of 265 works to the gallery, including pieces by Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Ellsworth Kelly. From the beginning, the agreement called for the collection to be divided between the museum and the Meyerhoff home. Jane Meyerhoff died in 2004.
"The idea has always been that the collection would be given to the National Gallery and the farm would be an exhibition center and study center for modern art," said National Gallery Director Earl Powell III.
The Baltimore County Council voted on Monday to allow the home to be used as a gallery. The 250-acre property was zoned for agricultural use and includes the family's horse-breeding business. Because of concerns about traffic, the new law limits the number of visitors at any one time to 125 and restricts the number of parking spaces and the hours the site can be open to 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week.
"This was one of the steps along the way to assure in the future that it complies with the land use laws," said Herbert Goldman, an attorney for Meyerhoff, a real estate developer and thoroughbred racehorse owner. "Mr. Meyerhoff is thrilled that this will ultimately be part of the nation's collection."
The National Gallery has agreed to maintain the collection and provide public programming. The annual budget will be provided by the Robert and Jane Meyerhoff Modern Art Foundation, whose board has members from both the family and the gallery. The foundation will own the property, where the couple built several interconnected galleries for the large canvases. "The light is beautiful and the buildings are incorporated into the landscape," said Powell.
"The object of the agreement was to keep the collection together and have it seen at all times. At some point when both of the Meyerhoffs would be gone, they want as much of it accessible to the public as possible," said Goldman.
The work collected by the Meyerhoffs has enlarged and transformed the National Gallery's contemporary collection. "It is the centerpiece of our modern collection," said Powell.
Their relationship with the gallery started in 1986 when they gave the money -- a reported $5 million -- for the purchase of Barnett Newman's 14-painting series "Stations of the Cross." In 2002 they gave the gallery "Girl With Beach Ball III" by Roy Lichtenstein; "Field #2" by Agnes Martin and "Two Women" by Willem de Kooning.
Over the years they have also donated Jasper Johns's "Perilous Night," Frank Stella's "Chodorow II," Claes Oldenburg's sculpture "Soft Drainpipe-Red (Hot) Version," Clyfford Still's "1951-N" and Howard Hodgkin's "Souvenirs." Other artists include Andy Warhol, Franz Kline and Mark Rothko.
The museum organized a show of the Meyerhoff collection in 1996 and currently has 44 pieces on view, of which 37 are gifts and seven are loans.
Powell said the structure of the partnership differs from other museums that have satellites, some of which have floundered. The gallery's board approved the arrangement of an independent board overseeing the venture. "We are not into the idea of off-site museum facilities. It will not be owned by the National Gallery. It is a wonderful idea and over time we will maintain and run the study center," said Powell.